Monday, March 31, 2008

Democrats Seek to Rally Behind Obama

Jackie Calmes reports that top an increasing number of Democratic Party officials have begun a movement in support of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Their hopes are to foster party unity and forestall a prolonged nomination battle that weakens the party heading into the November election:

Slowly but steadily, a string of Democratic Party figures is taking Barack Obama's side in the presidential nominating race and raising the pressure on Hillary Clinton to give up.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is expected to endorse Sen. Obama Monday, according to a Democrat familiar with her plans. Meanwhile, North Carolina's seven Democratic House members are poised to endorse Sen. Obama as a group -- just one has so far -- before that state's May 6 primary, several Democrats say.

Helping to drive the endorsements is a fear that the Obama-Clinton contest has grown toxic and threatens the Democratic Party's chances against Republican John McCain in the fall.

Sen. Clinton rejects that view. Over the weekend, she reiterated her intent to stay in the race beyond the last contest in early June -- and all the way to the party's convention in Denver, if necessary.

"There are some folks saying we ought to stop these elections," she said Saturday in Indiana, which also has a May 6 primary. "I didn't think we believed that in America. I thought we of all people knew how important it was to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted."

Sen. Obama told reporters, "My attitude is that Sen. Clinton can run as long as she wants."

In earlier eras, the standoff between the two candidates might have been resolved by party elders acting behind the scenes. But no Democrat today has the power to knock heads and resolve the mess. Party Chairman Howard Dean says he was "dumbfounded" at the suggestion by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy Friday that Sen. Clinton should pull out.

"Having run for president myself, nobody tells you when to get in, and nobody tells you when to get out," Mr. Dean said. "That's about the most personal decision you can make after all the time and effort you put into it."

New York Sen. Clinton still hopes that by turning in strong performances in the final primaries, she can blunt the momentum of her rival from Illinois and make the case that she is best-positioned to take on Sen. McCain. With Mr. Dean, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore and other party leaders remaining neutral, the question is whether the trend of party figures endorsing Sen. Obama will build enough momentum to tip the race.
I doubt the endorsement of a freshman senator (Klobuchar) will have a large effect on tamping down the Clinton machine's drive to leverage the nomination.

For example,
this morning's Los Angeles Times reports that Harold Ickes, who was deputy White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, is aggressively rounding up the support of party superdelegates, a drive that could possiby conclude with Hillary's nomination at the August convention:

Harold M. Ickes never forgets a favor, especially if he's the one who did the favor. So the veteran political operative made sure that, when the time was right, he alone would call Garry Shay, former chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. As Ickes saw it, he had helped Shay; now he was looking for Shay to help him.

And once Ickes started calling, he didn't stop until Shay said the words Ickes wanted to hear -- that he would support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

Shay, as a member of the Democratic National Committee, is a superdelegate, one of nearly 800 elected officials, party leaders and activists who -- with the state primaries and caucuses now expected to end in stalemate -- may effectively end up picking the 2008 Democratic candidate for president.

And the man in charge of Clinton's feverish effort to lock up superdelegates is Ickes, whose enthusiasm for no-holds-barred politics sometimes rattles friends and foes alike. Ickes once got so carried away that he bit another political operative on the leg. Now, some 35 years later, at age 68, he has mellowed so little that it could happen again.

"It depends on how heated the circumstances are," he says.

Aggressive, profane, openly scornful of rivals, Ickes rules Clinton's superdelegate operation with an intimidating style and a mythic persona. He is "advisor, consigliere, enforcer and strategist" all rolled into one, says Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party who backs Obama.

What's more, Harpootlian says: "He's like a shadow. You hear he's here, you hear he's there, but you never actually see him."
Read the whole thing.

Basically, for all the talk of revotes in Michigan and Florida, or a "dream ticket" combining Clinton and Obama, the crucial political angle right now is the battle for the superdelegates.

Klobuchar, and Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who endorsed Obama over the weekend, are superdelegates, so their endorsements of Obama indicate top party officials see things going all the way to Denver.

See also my earlier post, "Clinton Vows to Battle to Convention."

Plus, via Memeorandum, see Avi Zenilman, "Superdelegates: Guide to Undecideds."